AUSTRALIA 26 SOUTH AFRICA 19
Impact ... Scott Higginbotham cuts through the Springbok defence to score for the Wallabies. Photo: Getty Images
Relief came at last for the Wallabies when they held on to beat the Springboks at Subiaco Oval last night, but it came at an enormous cost - the loss of captain Will Genia and goalkicker Berrick Barnes.
The Wallabies showed great courage to rally in the final half hour to win their first Rugby Championship match of the season, scoring tries through forwards Scott Higginbotham and Ben Alexander.
Jump for joy ... Quade Cooper joins fellow teammates to embrace Scott Higginbotham after his try brought the Wallabies back on par with the Springboks. Photo: Getty Images
But the Wallabies, who head to the Gold Coast to play Argentina on Saturday, must be wondering if they will be able to fill the numbers. They have suffered from a horrendous injury toll and it became even more extensive when Genia appeared to have suffered a serious knee injury and Barnes hobbled off.
Just seconds before Alexander scored the match-winning try in the 70th minute, Genia was crunched in a tackle. He immediately beckoned for assistance. A short time later Barnes struggled to stand after attempting a clearing kick.
So often Test matches are determined by which team best takes their opportunities and the Springboks, not the Wallabies, were the masters of that in the first half.
To the victor goes the spoils ... Will Genia poses with the Nelson Mandela Challenge Plate. Photo: Getty Images
The Wallabies lifted considerably from their meanderings against the All Blacks, but they had to - because they couldn't really get any worse.
At least this time around their play had a touch of common sense about it. They used their gargantuan forwards - Radike Samo and Sitaleki Timani - to take the ball up in midfield, and relied on five-eighth Quade Cooper to stretch play to the sidelines with fast, shallow passes to his outer backs.
At times it worked, making good ground. But the Springboks were up to it, aligning their defensive combination well, and eventually frustrated the Wallabies into believing the only way they were ever going to get through was to relentlessly chip kick their way around them.
That worked right into the Springboks' hands, because the standard of kicking wasn't good enough.
The Wallabies had far more chances than the Springboks early on, but failed to use them. Once again they have driven themselves into believing that kicking is the best policy, and with it several threatening attacking charges were wasted.
Like the All Blacks, the Springboks showed great patience, and just waited for the Wallabies to falter.
That happened late in the half when suddenly the Springboks found themselves with the ball, and the only time they came close to the Wallabies' try line winger Bryan Habana dove under Timani to finish off a manoeuvre that had involved a succession of fast phase plays. The Wallabies also had enough chances to rebound, but once more wasted the moment. The most exasperating period was just before the break. With the Springbok prop Tendai Mtawarira sent to the sin bin for shoulder-charging Wallabies winger Digby Ioane, Australia should have taken advantage of a seven-man opposing pack.
Instead they bombed one lineout, and then with a scrum set near the Springboks quarter line, the Australian pack disintegrated.
But after the break, the introduction of fresh blood led to a revival. Back-row replacement Higginbotham was on the field for only a few minutes before he found himself at the centre of a destructive attacking thrust that enabled the Wallabies to take the lead for the first time in the Test.
Genia threw several tight passes to make the break, then waited for Higginbotham on the charge in the 55th minute, and at last Australia found the line.
The biggest danger period for the Wallabies is always after they score, as they so often slacken off. It again appeared to be the case when the Springboks immediately found themselves in the opposition quarter, and with a two-man overlap.
But in an extraordinary sequence, centre Adam Ashley-Cooper effected tackles on two Springboks - replacement winger Lwazi Mvovo and centre Jean De Villiers - at almost the same time to stop a certain try.
AUSTRALIA 26 (Ben Alexander, Scott Higginbotham tries Berrick Barnes 2 cons 4 pens) bt SOUTH AFRICA 19 (Bryan Habana try Morne Steyn con M Steyn 2, Francois Steyn 2 pens) at Subiaco Oval. Referee: Nigel Owens. Crowd: 34,377.